THURMAN — The town has again been victimized by financial fraudsters who stole money from a town bank account, this time to a much larger degree.
For the second time this year, someone made fake checks on a town bank account and cashed them at an out-of-state bank. This time, one of the highway accounts was looted of $20,010, according to police and town officials.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
The highway account was the one account that was not closed after $900 was taken from a town account in March, when someone produced fake checks using the town’s bank account numbers. One fraudulent check was cashed at a grocery store in Pennsylvania, and a second check for $800 was not cashed when staff at the store became suspicious.
This time, town officials say 58 fake checks were cashed at an undisclosed location in the Midwest between Sept. 6 and Sept. 27.
Town Highway Superintendent Patrick Wood said the account is supposed to be monitored by the town’s chief fiscal officer, town Supervisor Cynthia Hyde, but apparently was not, since fraudulent checks were cashed repeatedly over a period of three weeks. And because there was no monitoring, the bank has indicated it won’t reimburse the town, he added.
Wood did not mince words as to where he believes responsibility lies, blaming Hyde for not only failing to close the account after the March theft but not monitoring it as she said she would.
He said Hyde also did not reveal the theft to him until this week, which could have led to the account being overdrawn.
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“I’ve never seen such incompetence,” he said. “There’s no excuse for it.”
The town’s bank, Glens Falls National Bank, will now require the town pay $20 a month to have bank staff monitor the accounts for fraud, officials said.
Town Board member Gail Seaman said she learned of the theft at a Town Board meeting Wednesday night, when Hyde tried to keep the matter from the public in an executive session. Seaman said she did not agree that it should be discussed behind closed doors and informed the public.
She said Hyde seemed more worried about how the incident would affect her re-election bid than letting the public know.
“She (Hyde) had committed to the bank and townspeople that she would be monitoring the accounts daily to prevent another breach,” Seaman said. “She kept the (Town) Board in the dark. The bank said they would refuse to do business with us unless we paid them to monitor the accounts.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said the matter was under investigation this week. He said someone produced fake checks using the town’s account number and cashed them out of state, but additional details weren’t released Thursday.
There have been a number of similar cases around the country in recent years, with scam artists getting bank account numbers for municipal accounts and cashing them. Banks and stores give these checks more credibility than personal checks.
The March forgeries involving a Thurman account were linked by State Police to an organized crime ring based in Georgia, and federal authorities were working to determine what charges would be brought.